Komodo National Park – Here Be Dragons…

incidental naturalist

In 2007, a Komodo dragon killed an eight-year-old boy.  This was the first fatal attack on a human by one of the giant lizards in 33 years. “The Komodo bit him on his waist and tossed him viciously from side to side,” a national park spokesman, Heru Rudiharto, said.  “The boy died from massive bleeding half an hour later.”

This is the stuff of legends; huge reptiles capable of killing human beings, living on a remote Indonesian island. This may have been the first fatal attack for a while but it is just one of many attacks on people that have resulted in serious injury.

My childhood fascination with nature grew out of watching the behaviour of amphibians. Like many children, I learned about cycles of life by watching frog spawn become tadpoles and finally crawl out of the water on frogs’ legs. This interest naturally extended to the…

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Leonardo’s Wings

I’ve been trying to settle into an ancient history paper this weekend, but my brain keeps taking off on me.  Across my living room, the Mona Lisa, the Vitruvian Man and The Lady of the Dishevelled Hair are all vying for my attention.  Seems I’m on a bit of a Leonardo kick.  Over the past couple years, I’ve been taking art history courses spanning from prehistory to the twenty-first century.  I’ve been running back and forth along that timeline ever since.  Every time I think ‘the Renaissance is definitely my fave!’, I get swept up in compelling stories of yet another century, another country or continent.  Maybe there’s no such thing as settling on a favourite point of history.

A few days ago I returned to the Renaissance and watched a fascinating dramatized documentary, ‘Inside the Mind of Leonardo.’   What a mind. Painter of the immortal Mona Lisa…

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Do Robots Love Language? Bias and Google Translate

Loving Language

Translate Tongan? You'll have to ask him--Google Translate can't help. Translate Tongan? You’ll have to ask him–Google Translate can’t help.

I tend not to follow the mainstream. I study languages that others don’t, and I’ll often gravitate towards marginal dialects when I can. When I speak Arabic, I try to throw in a little Moroccan when I can. Speaking Russian, I might add a little bit of a Ukrainian accent. Right now, I’m learning Swiss German, which I’m afraid will irritate my standard German-speaking friends.

Google Translate follows the mainstream. It is a tool developed by a savvy business filling a commercial need. People who have and spend money need an application to conduct their business more easily. I addressed the relative value of languages in an earlier post.

Unfortunately, Google Translate reflects the mainstream. It offers the languages of the powerful, and translates using the language of the status quo without respect for what is good…

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Stones That Made Food

Bente Haarstad Photography

kvernstein_hogfjellet_cw-2

For centuries there was production of millstones in these mountains, now a national park. The production in Kvernfjellet (The millstone mountains) started sometime during the 1500s, and lasted until 1914. There have been many sites for millstone productions in Norway during history, but this was the biggest with more than 1000 quarries. For some centuries this area supplied more or less all the country with these stones.  In the 1800smostof the bread eatenin Noway was bakedfrom flourmade withthes stones, that is mica-schist scattered with 2-5mm large crystals of hard minerals. In the picture above is a broken millstone left in the mountains.

kvernstein_hogfjellet_cw-3

Millstones were needed to grind grain, our most important food source, in Norway as in so many countries. There have been a lot of scientific work on these sites lately. A multidisiplinary research project involving geologists, archaelogists, historians, botanists, geographers and…

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Best of 2014: 10 Most Popular Longreads Exclusives of the Year

Longreads

This year, Longreads worked with a group of outstanding writers and publishers to produce original stories and exclusives that hadn’t been previously published online. It was all funded with support from our Longreads Members. You can read them all here.

Here’s a list of the 10 most popular stories we published this year. Join us to help fund more stories in 2015.

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What Happens When You Go Viral: On Wanting to Give Up

Such Small Hands

I recently found out that the hit count on my Relevant article back in June was over 1.6 million. The editor told me it was the second-biggest traffic day in the history of their website. That’s mind-boggling to me.

If you had asked me a year ago what I thought it would mean to have a piece get that much exposure, I would have assumed it would be my big break. That it would boost my blog, lead to freelance opportunities, help connect me to the right people. That it would be my open door into the world of professional writing and publishing. That it would bring me validation and satisfaction. It would reassure me that what I’m doing here isn’t pointless and that my story matters.

Do you want to know the truth?

It hasn’t done any of those things. For a few weeks I received a lot of…

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The Canadian Rockies

Lightscapes Nature Photography Blog

In the aftermath of a disappointing day at Lake O’Hara, I had hopes for better luck on Day 3.  My plan was to shoot sunrise at Moraine Lake, about a 20-25 minute drive from where I was staying at Lake Louise Village.  The forecast was for mostly cloudy conditions, but I was hoping that I’d get lucky.  As I made the drive, in the dark, down the winding Moraine Lake Road, I could see no stars when I glanced out the window.  As a result, I expected no sunrise this morning.

There was some ambient light when I reached Moraine Lake itself, and because of the time I took to scout the location on Day 1 , I immediately headed to a spot along the lake shore, rather than climbing up to the rock pile, as many photographers automatically do.  The sky was indeed mostly cloudy, but there was…

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